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Former Hernando County school officials seek rehiring following discrimination claim

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:23 PM

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Two former school district administrators who claimed gender discrimination was the reason they were let go are now seeking the demoted positions with the district that they previously refused.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said Wednesday that in spite of their discrimination claims, former Student Services Director Mary-Grace Surrena and former Fox Chapel Middle School Principal Barbara Kidder have decided they want to work for the district.

Surrena has been hired to serve as a school psychologist — a position she held once before.

Blavatt said Kidder submitted a letter requesting to rescind her intention to retire. He said he would likely approve it, but added he doesn't know what positions might be available for her.

Both Surrena and Kidder weren't reappointed to their jobs late last month as part of Blavatt's annual reappointment process. Surrena was replaced by Felita Lott, while Kidder was replaced by now-former J.D. Floyd Principal Ray Pinder.

Blavatt said both were offered other positions but turned them down because they represented demotions.

In two separate letters from attorney Karen Gaffney, Blavatt said, both women threatened legal action and made claims of gender discrimination.

As of press deadline, school district officials didn't provide a copy of the letters. Gaffney did not return calls by press deadline Wednesday.

Blavatt said he viewed the letters as threats of litigation and added that he thought it amusing that Surrena and Kidder would claim discrimination and then want their jobs back.

"Mary-Grace Surrena is a wonderful person and so is Barbara Kidder. There's nothing personal in this at all," Blavatt said.

During Tuesday night's school board meeting, Jim Knight, who preceded Surrena as director of student services, urged the elected group to investigate what he called questionable practices by the superintendent.

He said Lott, Surrena's replacement, doesn't have the proper student services credentials for the position and added that it's rare that an administrator be removed less than a year into the job.

Typically, he said, administrators are evaluated and given a chance to improve.

"She has received nothing but excellent evaluations in all the time she's been here and has had a mere eight months on the job before being told that she was too nice and too soft," Knight said. "She's given 24 years in this district and doesn't deserve to be tossed out just to give someone else a promotion."

The board approved the personnel changes that included Surrena's and Kidder's replacements by a 3-2 vote.

Board member James Yant voted against the administrative changes, saying that the threat of litigation and the fact that Surrena appears to have performed well on the job were good enough reasons to give him pause.

Board member Dianne Bonfield voted against the measure because she did not wish to reappoint Brooksville Elementary School Principal Mary LeDoux.

On Wednesday, Blavatt defended removing Surrena and Kidder and said it's his job to ensure that people are properly placed for the betterment of the school district.

"One problem in Hernando County is that when I came here, people were allowed to remain in positions where they weren't doing a good job," Blavatt said. "This is not an easy thing. It would have been easier for me not to have done this or just make other changes and just let things roll along. But that's not what people are paying me for."

Meanwhile, he said he's not certain that employing either Surrena or Kidder guarantees that the threat of litigation is over.

"I don't know what they're going to do, and as far as I'm concerned, they'll have to do what feels comfortable," Blavatt said. "But to me, it says a lot that, at this point, they're both wanting to be back considering they claimed they were discriminated against." (352) 544-5271

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